Playing a grieving woman in her new film, ‘Rabbit Hole’, drove Nicole Kidman into agonizing sob during the night.
She is one of the highest-paid actresses in the film industry, yet Nicole Kidman projects humility and self-deprecation. She rose to fame in the early 90s thanks to her collaboration with and marriage to mega-star, Tom Cruise. But that fame obscured her true talent, acting, for nearly a decad
Only after her high-profile – and painful – divorce from Tom Cruise, Kidman defied the critics and established herself as a superstar actress as she dazzled us in the Musical ‘Moulin Rouge’, and the historical epic ‘Cold Mountain’, and won an Oscar for her work in the drama ‘The Hours’.
“I suppose it’s been a long career with many ebbs and flows,” she reflects. “I hope that through most of it, I’ve championed complicated women and stories and tried to push myself. I’ve made huge mistakes and then at other times I’ve made massive successes. I remember someone saying to me very early on, “If you’re in it for the long run, it’s going to play like a roller coaster.”
Today she arrives at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about her new film, ‘Rabbit Hole‘, which she produced and starred in. She strides into the room, smiling jovially and bubbling with energy and vibrancy. In spite of the passing of time, the 43-year-old Australian actress has retained her youthful look and her china doll face, without resorting to surgery or Botox injections.
Even although Kidman is regularly offered the best roles in Hollywood and commands the highest pay, her true passion is in small indie dramas. Hence, out of the frustration of not having an outlet to make certain things that were sent to her, a few years ago, she decided to produce and, with the help of her partner, Per Saari, she formed a production company, Blossom Films. ‘I wanted to help to get things made that were going to be hard to get made,’ she enthuses.
Kidman admits that she at the time didn’t even know what producing meant when she embarked on this venture, but she evidently knew how to pick a good, compelling story.
One day, while drinking a coffee in Starbucks in Nashville, where she lives with her husband, Keith Urban, and 3-year-old daughter, Sunday Rose, she read a New York Times review of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, ‘Rabbit Hole’, by acclaimed playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. The play explores the lives of a grieving couple, Becca and Howie, who are trying to resurrect and rebuild their marriage after a shocking loss of their only child in a car accident.
“I was captured by the subject matter,” Kidman enthuses. “They said it wasn’t melodramatic and it was funny, and yet you still absolutely bled for these people emotionally. I thought wow, this thing must be very, very good.”
She promptly dispatched Per Saari to New York to see the play. After seeing it, Saari texted Kidman. “I read that and went ‘omigosh’,” she exclaims. “Let’s approach David, the writer, and see if we can get the rights, and luckily the rights were available because usually they are not.”
Eager to get this film made, Kidman invited Lindsay-Abaire to write the screenplay and gave him complete artistic control. Then she surprisingly hired an unconventional director, John Cameron Mitchell, who is known for his sexually explicit films such as Hedwig and Shortbus. Driven by her belief in giving people chances and opportunities, Kidman is proud of her choice.
“Talent is talent,” she stresses. “He’s exceptionally talented, therefore to give him the opportunity to show his talent in the same way that Gus Van Sant when he did ‘Good Will Hunting’, he had done ‘Cowgirls Get the Blues’ and those sort of films, so I saw it as similar to that. Then when I spoke to John on the phone, I just knew that he had an enormous amount of heart and that’s what was needed for this film, because without that the film could be cold and I didn’t want it to be cold.” Indeed, Cameron Mitchell felt a special connection to this project because he also endured the loss of a brother when he was a child.
In ‘Rabbit Hole’, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) deal with grief in different ways. Private, carefully controlled Becca wants to put away the past and all the relationships in it, yet reaches out to the teenager who inadvertently caused the accident. Meanwhile, her husband Howie grasps onto memories and friendships, and tries to find comfort in their marriage.
Hardship is not strange to Kidman. At 17, she temporarily halted her education to help provide for the family when her mum was diagnosed with cancer. Only to resume her acting training after her mum’s recovery. Although Kidman hasn’t suffered a loss, she totally understands Becca’s feelings: the feeling of being remote, isolated, lonely and so far from happiness.
“I absolutely can relate to the stoicism of the character, because she is trying to present at least to the world that she’s okay, which I find very touching, because I know what’s underneath. I had to trust John here. He would say, ‘understand her, but I want you to feel what was underneath percolating, vibrating, desperately trying to get out, because if you don’t then she’s cold, abrasive and aggressive aT times.'”
Being engrossed in Becca’s character so deeply took its emotional toll on Kidman. During the six week shoot, she woke up from her sleep at night at least four times, shaken to the bones and sobbing agonisingly. “I’ve had that happen in my life over 43 years but I’ve never had it happen in such a succession. This was disturbing my subconscious in a way that I wasn’t even aware of, but of course I feel that what’s required as an actor is to honour the emotions and the subject and the material,” Kidman says.
“I feel that I am able to move in and out of a character, and when I look back I realise that it’s all a bit of a blur, but I think there’s certain pieces that required giving over of yourself for that period of time. In this film, because of what it’s about and because of where I’m at in my life right now, I was able to access the emotions and the intensity of it very quickly, but then I wasn’t able to let it go very quickly.”
Key to Kidman’s performance, for which she has just received a Golden Globe nomination, is also the rapport she built with Aaron Eckhart as the husband, who is Becca’s total opposite in his approach to recovering from loss. The two actors, who didn’t know each other prior to the production, shared the house during the shoot, forming a very close and intimate relationship.
“That what you need when you’re trying to create a 10 year marriage on screen that is falling apart and you have to do it very quickly,” she stresses. “I sing Aaron’s praises because it’s very much a duel there. When you’re portraying a married couple on screen, it’s the two of you. If he succeeds, I succeed and vice versa. It’s an emotional dance that requires an enormous amount of trust and understanding.”
Unlike acting, where Kidman has to invariably wait for instructions from others to do things, producing gave her confidence and taught her discipline. “It’s great to be part of the decision-making process,” she enthuses. “You learn that there’s a way to make a film. You are not going to get everything you want for the vision, but you’re going to make the compromises that are right for it, and that’s great.”
But Kidman doesn’t let budget restrictions compromise the quality of her movie. So when her partner told her that they were not going to be able to afford a song, she paid for it with her own money.
“I am just trying to protect material and film makers and give certain types of films the chance to be made. That would be my wish for my company,” she says. Her company has just produced a romantic comedy called ‘Monte Carlo’, which is coming out in the summer and next year is going to produce Little Bee